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Consider the following scenario:

One-size-fits-all (Mass Production)

Mass production thrived in the bygone era of stable demand little product variety and no serious competition. At its peak, the "any-color-as-long-as-it’s-black" Model T Ford had a 57% market share. Despite its very low price of $245.  However, it was pulled off its pedestal when upstart General Motors offered variety such as color paint and other options. Ford was slow to respond, mostly because mass production’s keys to its success -- hard tooling, labor specialization, and economies of scale – prevented it from offering variety or adapting quickly to emerging trends.

The paradigm is now shifting from Mass Production to Mass Customization.

The Two Version CONUNDRUM 

For an expensive product normally built by even more expensive hard tooling, the mass-producer could only build one mass-produced product version. But if there are two markets, each with promising opportunities, the mass producer could only capture half the opportunity and disappoint half the potential customers.

This would present a serious conundrum to decide which market to sell to first and which other market to ignore or defer until the first plant brings in enough money to build a derivative product a second plant later to mass-produce the other.

Fortunately, there is a solution to this conundrum: Mass Customization, which can design both (or multiple) versions simultaneously, for instance, with two (or more) sizes of key dimensions, no matter how large or how numerous the parts are. By using Concurrent Engineering principles, matching flexible tooling could build either version on-demand without delays or expensive change-overs.  And multiple versions can be made in any ratio on-demand, like Toyota, Mazda, and Honda can build any of several car models in any ratio in the same plant.  Further, new versions could be added later to such a flexible production system.

On the design side, both geometries could be laid out in the same  Computer Aided Design models, simply by stretching the same parts for the other version (called parametric CAD). Then, the thicknesses or strengths of different parts would designed for their unique loads. The product architecture would be optimized with a standard portion which would be seamlessly integrated with all variable versions.
       This would not be limited to bolt-on modules that have heavy interfaces. Rather, flexible processing could enable a monolithic structure of either version.

Design Effort No More.  In the long run, it will require no more design effort to design both versions up-front than it would design to the chosen version first then do the deferred version later as a derivative. 

    In fact, the overall effort would be more efficient with the same team and be better optimized as would be the interfaces with the common section.  Further, the white paper, "Concurrent Engineering For Challenging Products  shows that thorough up-front work cuts product development resource demands in half!

Calendar time No More.  The time elapsed time to design both versions would not be any more if the design team was also trained "Design for Manufacturability & Concurrent Engineering,," which ensures that the time-to-stable-production (the only "time to market" that matters) is finished in half the time, as shown in the article: http://www.design4manufacturability.com/half-the-time.htm  because of more thorough up-front work and better optimized architecture.

On the manufacturing side, versatile fixtures and other processes could be concurrently engineered to accommodate either version without any changeover delays to build either version on-demand economically in any quantities. This would be accomplished by Flexible Manufacture as discussed at: http://www.build-to-order-consulting.com/flex-mfg.htm   These techniques would manufacture different parts for each version on-demand.

Half the Tooling Expense.  One set of flexible tooling for the mass-customized model would be half the cost of inflexible "hard" tooling: one set now for the chosen version and another set later for the deferred version.  Flexible tooling is described in the Flexible Manufacturing article
           Although deferring expenses for second set of tooling may defer some investment, any financial benefit would be exceeded by the lack or synergy, construction efficiencies, and economies-of-scale resulting from gearing up to build similar, but not the same, tooling twice.

No Change-over Delays. Further, if both sets of different tooling try to share the same plant, each change-over could delay production and all this would all this would add the following costs over the mass-customized model because too sets of mass production tooling would:

  • would need more factory space
  • need material handing equipment to move heavy tooling, and
  • need extra labor to do the change-overs every time production changed

Many customized versions

Mass Customization can expand the previous scenario beyond two versions to many versions and options, all built to-order on-demand in any quantity in the same flexible manufacturing facility
In general, dozens to thousands of SKUs (product variations) can be build on-demand in any quantities at low cost, including orders for many niche markets, country variations, or mass-customized for individual customers. The Mass-Customization article on this site presents illustrated examples of how this can be done for electronic products (Figure 1) and fabricated products (Figure 2). Both figures include manual assembly cells (in the lower right) that shows how mass customization can be accomplished by manual assembly, not always needing automation as many writers assume. In the BTO & Mass Customization book, these figures and descriptions are presented in Chapter 9.

For a 67 page Executive summary of Mass Customization, read Chapter 1 of the book “Build-to-Order & Mass Customization.” (shown at right). Dr. Anderson presents seminars and workshops customized for specific companies on all implementation strategies. At this time, there are no public executive education classes available.


The author of this article, Dr. David M. Anderson, can be reached at 805-924-0100 or anderson@build-to-order-consulting.com 
He has published dozens of articles that are posted at www.design4manufacturability.com , www.HalfCostProducts.com, and www.build-to-order-consulting.com

Copyright © 2018 by Dr. David M. Anderson, P.E.

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